Endangering Sacred Cows - Protecting Journalist Sources in War-Time

Simon Levett


Journalist source protection forms part of the public interest in protecting rights but it also involves secrecy which can harm the public interest. The secret nature of journalist source protection means that citizens are unable to make fully formed decisions on issues such as war and foreign policy. This is demonstrated by successive United States media-military policies, by which source secrecy contributed to a lack of information about the identities of actors in war, including potentially for war crimes and other serious violations of law. The Law – the United States Supreme Court, the International Criminal Tribunal and the European Court of Human Rights - offers an alternative to source secrecy to different degrees; these bodies generally define the relevant public interest in terms of the right of the public to know in regards to the commission of a crime. It could also behove soft law mechanisms such as a media Code of Ethics to make a stronger statement in respect of the public’s access to information to make more fully formed decisions on issues such as war and foreign policy.

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